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Kaiser Permanente to Pink Slip Hundreds of Workers

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BVN Staff Report

Kaiser Permanente - one of the nation's largest HMOs - will lay off 530 employees in Southern California this weekend, including some in the Inland Empire, a company official has confirmed.

Kaiser Permanente said the layoffs – covering less than one percent of its staffing – will be spread across its 65,700 employee workforce in offices and hospitals from Kern County to the Mexican border.

The HMO serves nearly 3.5 million members in Southern California.

At least 85 positions were eliminated at the Fontana and Ontario medical centers, officials said Friday. Officials at the health-care provider did not release the locations of the other 445 positions. The layoffs do not include physicians.

"We expect that over the next year we will experience significant membership growth and anticipate that many of these affected employees will have new opportunities to be placed in other positions and remain with our organization," said Peggy Hinz, spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente.

Kaiser officials said they have undertaken a series of layoffs to ensure they meet possible changes that could occur with the implementation of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, which aims to make sure every American has health care coverage.

As of Oct. 30, Kaiser facilities in Southern California had 60,000 staff members and 5,700 physicians.

Union officials said that the laid-off employees will be able to take advantage of a retraining and education program that will keep them paid and insured for up to one year.

Union officials first heard of the coming round of layoffs in late October when 84 non-union Kaiser Permanente workers received notices.

United Steel Workers Local 7600 President Roy Wiles spent his Friday notifying employees they no longer had a job with Kaiser. The union represents clerical, patient care and service workers in the Inland Empire.

"Telling people they no longer have a job is always a difficult process. During the holidays it's all the more difficult," Wiles said.

"It's very difficult for all the employees."

The Kaiser employees will be able to take advantage of the uniform protection program that is set up to help find retaining, education and possibly another job at Kaiser, which Wiles said has been successful in the past.

Late October, Kaiser laid off 84 non-union employees, which they called a "modest downsizing of staff" in Southern California.

In a statement, Kaiser Permanente said health care in America is in the midst of “exciting and challenging” times, and that the company had undertaken cost-reduction initiatives – including layoffs - to ensure it could meet “these changing dynamics.”

“It is important to note that none of these position eliminations will in any way jeopardize the quality of patient care, which is always our primary focus,” the corporate statement said.

The Kaiser Permente layoffs come just days before the holiday rush. Social media outlets are abuzz with comments, many calling the announcement ill-timed and cruel.

"This is no more than a ruse to dump higher wage earners in an effort to bring in people making less, just in time for the implementation of healthcare reform," wrote Margie a veteran Kaiser nurse. "To lay folks off during the holidays is just plain doubly cruel," she wrote on Facebook.

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